United States House vote brings government shutdown closer

Republicans defy Obama by backing measure to delay his health care law for a year; Senate Democratic leader says this will be rejected

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 1:41pm

The US House approved early yesterday a Republican plan that keeps the government open, but its attempt to delay President Barack Obama's health care law means the measure is likely dead on arrival.

The measure still needs approval in the Senate, where Democratic majority leader Harry Reid said it will be rejected.

"To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax," Reid said.

The House vote brings the federal government dramatically closer to its first shutdown in 17 years.

Barely two days before a shutdown deadline, Republican leaders set off a political firestorm when they announced on Saturday that their stop-gap federal spending bill aims to delay implementation of Obamacare by one year.

The White House sharply rebuked the move, and warned it was a step towards shuttering federal agencies once the fiscal year ends overnight.

It also vowed to veto any such bill. Both chambers would need a two-thirds majority vote to override a presidential veto, which is close to impossible given the current political breakdown on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner nevertheless ploughed ahead with the strategy, convening a rare Saturday session as Congress struggled to break a funding impasse that, if unresolved, would require hundreds of thousands of federal workers to stay at home.

After hours of raucous debate, the House approved the measure, voting largely along party lines.

"Now that the House has again acted, it's up to the Senate to pass this bill without delay to stop a government shutdown," Boehner said shortly after the vote. "Let's get this done."

Under pressure from his party's far-right conservative wing, Boehner doubled down on his caucus' bid to stop Obama's signature domestic achievement, the health care law.

"Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The White House Office of Management and Budget separately warned that Obama "would veto the bill".

Video: Healthcare reform faces patchy roll-out in sceptical states

"The American people will not be extorted by tea party anarchists," said an angry Reid, referring to the ultra-conservative faction of the Republican party.

He deriding the House measure as "pointless" brinkmanship that could end in economic crisis.

Given the Senate's likely rejection of the House bill in the waning hours of the fiscal year, a Republican aide acknowledged that a temporary shutdown was the likeliest scenario.

House Democrats, a minority force and largely powerless to prevent passage of Republican legislation, worried that the US government would suffer another shutdown.

Democrat David Scott stood up to say that what was occurring was nothing less than "a shutdown being ordered by the Republican party."

"You have been hijacked by a small group of extreme folks who simply hate this president," Scott said.

Many conservatives are unapologetic about seeking to put the brakes on the health care law they insist is not ready for prime time.

"I'm a free-market guy, and I truly believe that Obamacare could be the linchpin in shifting America over into an almost irreversible socialist economy," Congressman Trent Franks said.

Congress now has less than 48 hours to strike a deal that keeps government open, but the ping-ponging of legislation is making that unlikely.

The last government shutdown ran for 21 days from December 1995 to January 1996, and was the product of a budget battle between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republicans, led by then-speaker Newt Gingrich.

Republicans suffered a public backlash when voters re-elected Clinton in a landslide the following November, a lesson never forgotten by senior Republicans, including Boehner.

The stand-off is also a harbinger for the next big political battle in Washington - a far more consequential bill to raise the federal government's borrowing authority. Failure to raise the debt ceiling by mid-October could result in the government defaulting on its obligations.

Additional reporting by Reuters